Jimmy Sengenberger

Across the state, we’re seeing a wholesale rejection of transparency and accountability by community and political leaders attempting to misuse the system for their own gain. Look no further than Colorado’s school districts, where legal and political games rule the day.

Let’s start with Denver Public Schools, where the board’s vice president, Tay Anderson, tried and failed to muzzle a critic with a permanent restraining order. On Tuesday, a judge lifted Anderson’s temporary restraining order against Brandon Pryor, a DPS father, community activist and noted district critic. Pryor is founder of Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy, a public STEM innovation school modeled off historically Black colleges and universities.

Much to Pryor’s frustration, the school board voted to move STEAM Academy far from where its predominantly minority student body resides. Last month, Pryor and Anderson got into a heated argument inside the building where they both work. It reportedly had to do with school board inaction regarding STEAM Academy and happened weeks after DPS lost a lawsuit against Pryor for banning him from school board meetings and other school functions.

Anderson’s original temporary restraining order was requested following the argument. Pryor reportedly concedes he raised his voice but insists he never threatened Anderson; Anderson claims otherwise.

According to Chalkbeat, after Anderson’s attorney finished their case, Denver County Court Judge Kerri Lombardi stopped the proceedings to dismiss the protection order — before Pryor even made his case or called his witnesses. Lombardi ruled Anderson clearly hadn’t met the burden of proof required for a permanent restraining order.

Anderson (who also goes by Auon’tai Anderson) has previously tried to use the court system to silence criticism. He went to court with a defamation lawsuit in November 2021; most of the claims Anderson brought were dismissed “with prejudice” by the court last April.

Last year, he tried using the courts to discredit the report on a 2021 investigation that found conduct by Anderson with students and investigation witnesses was egregious enough for his board colleagues to censure him. The judge flatly “reject(ed) Mr. Anderson’s arguments.”

The decision to obtain a restraining order — something only enforceable through law enforcement — is striking for Anderson, given his reputation for bashing police. He emphatically opposes restoring school resource officers to DPS campuses — a position he’s doubled down on even as it contributes to a surge in crime and violence among students (which I explored in yesterday’s Denver Gazette).

Let’s be real: Anderson always seems to believe it’s better to silence critics, including parents like Pryor, than to deal with the real issues — such as plummeting student achievement, deteriorating campus safety, declining enrollment, quitting teachers and policies impacting schools like STEAM Academy. When Pryor spoke in public comment at Tuesday’s board meeting, Anderson rose and left the room — visually exemplifying his unwillingness to productively engage with critics.

Woodland Park, a community of some 8,000 residents on Pike’s Peak’s north slope, offers another example of this phenomenon. There, teachers union leaders are plotting behind closed doors and using limits on open records to conceal their organizing.

In Sunday’s Denver Gazette, I detailed a secret Jan. 30 staff meeting organized by the Woodland Park Education Association (WPEA), a recording of which I’ve obtained. (I walked through excerpts on my 710KNUS radio show as well).

As I discussed then, Nate Owen, the union’s president and a teacher in the Woodland Park School District, argued there’s a “crisis” in the district and said the Colorado Education Association “recognize(s) we are in crisis.” He disclosed statewide coordination with other unions to thwart school boards and district leaders who don’t embrace their political agenda.

Additionally, Owen revealed that, amid this coordination, the union is trying to evade public scrutiny under the Colorado Open Records Act. “CORA requests have been crazy, especially around me and my (district) email,” Owen says, asserting more than 300 open records requests have been received by the district, “especially in my leadership structure” (meaning, union leaders in particular).

Owen provided the 80-or-so district employees with a private email address and stressed, “It is not school sponsored in any way, shape or form. I created it when I took over as the WPEA president so that way I could have a slightly more official address (to) communicate with our executive administrators and leaders in the district.” He emphasized multiple times that it’s “non-CORA-able because it is a private email.”

Responding to my emailed questions, Owen claimed his union email address is private because it “is used by all Woodland Park Education Association presidents” so that “our members always know (how) to get a hold of their leadership, regardless of who is currently holding this position.”

Yet, Owen told employees he personally created the email after taking over last year. Moreover, by repeatedly stressing the private nature of the email — and the fact that his district email has been subject to many records requests — Owen effectively admitted it’s a way to dodge public scrutiny of union activities that directly impact Woodland Park students.

Let’s be clear: Whether it’s a school board member trying to silence critics through the courts or a teachers union skirting state open records laws, such actions misuse the law to evade transparency and accountability. From the statehouse to the schoolhouse, Coloradans must reject these juvenile tactics.

Jimmy Sengenberger is an investigative journalist, public speaker, and host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on News/Talk 710 KNUS. Reach Jimmy online at JimmySengenberger.com or on Twitter @SengCenter.

Jimmy Sengenberger is host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” Saturdays from 6-9am on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads,” a webshow and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.

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